History: June 2010 Archives

the enemies finally come face to face

We watched the restored version of "All Quiet on the Western Front" at home late last night. Before yesterday I had neither read the book nor seen the film. This early talkie, an eighty-year-old masterpiece, has survived, both as art and as a surprisingly strong piece of theater. It's terrifying, when it's not heart-braking, and there's nothing maudlin or melodramatic about it.

It's an extraordinary film; don't wait for the remake.

As if it just watching "Front" were not already enough of a profound and moving experience, today we learned that the event that precipitated The Great War. The conflict that inspired Remarque's seminal anti-war novel, and Russian-born Louis Milestone's 1930 film of the same name which was based on the world-wide best-seller, occurred exactly ninety-six years ago (still within living memory - of at least a very few). While today is the anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, It's also the anniversary of the Versailles Treaty which officially ended the hostilities between the remaining major combatants. That accord was signed ninety-one years ago today.

The war was supposed to be "the war to end all wars", the phrase a perverse, but catchy rationalization which was actually invented early on by its most enthusiastic champions.

It's clear however that, as the direct heirs of its horrors, which include the Second World War, among others, we haven't learned a thing in the intervening years. This is in spite of the hopes of the remarkable German author of "Front" and most of the people connected with the film, including its fictional chief protagonist, Paul Bäumer, and the very real pacifist actor who played him, Lew Ayres.

In the image above Paul is lamenting the death, by his own hand, of a French Soldier who had lept into his trench in the chaos and heat of a particularly violent infantry battle.

In the Turner Classics commentary supplied with the DVD, film historian Robert Osborne sincerely and persuasively proposes that subtitles be created in every language, that the film be shown to people all over the world, and that they should see it again and again, once every year.

But today a country whose people mistakably believe themselves to be the most peace-loving on earth, have created two optional, trillion-dollar, asymmetric wars, killing fields inside dirt-poor nations which have no working governments, on the other side of the planet, and it seems we can give no justification for our continuing these wars other than the fact that we are at war(s). In retrospect, a century later, even the fools and jingoes who marched off in 1914 don't look so singularly absurd as we once thought they did.

Besides, while the number of casualties in 1914-1918 certainly dwarf the total of all losses in the Middle East, that war was at least brought to a halt in four and a quarter years. Our own, current madness has already gone on twice that long.

[image from leftofcybercenter]


There will be a great congregation of friends and activists inside the Great Hall at the Cooper Union tomorrow evening at six o'clock. There they will be celebrating the rich life of Harry Wieder, cut short, shockingly, in an accident in April.

Harry was a familiar friend and powerful advocate of many progressive causes, so I expect the room will resemble a portrait of the face of New York grassroots activism (of almost every sort) as it operated over the last few decades.

I also expect that this memorial will not be a lugubrious affair. Harry meant a lot to the people who shared his life and his dedication. But we also knew how to share in laughter, and there should be plenty of that tomorrow.

Harry was also completely familiar with the historic Great Hall, not least for his regular attendance at ACT UP meetings, which continued while they were being held there in the early 90's. It was a time, difficult to imagine today, when the press of hundreds of AIDS activists (I'm sure I remember hearing the number 700 one week), attracted by the urgency of the issues and the energy of the coalition, had forced a move from the pre-restoration Center to a larger venue. It was Cooper which welcomed us.

I've been back many times since those years, and Barry and I will be there tomorrow.

Speaking of ACT UP, and the kind of energy which seems in scarce supply these days, the incredibly-important ACT UP Oral History Project has just added 14 new interviews with ACT UP activists and add 9 important video clips and transcripts to its web site. Visit, rummage around, then go out and change the world.

While working on this post I once again found myself Googling for an image of "Harry Wieder"; there aren't a great number, and most of them are mixed in with a much, much larger number of images of "Prince Harry". Our Harry would love that.

[image via pinknews]

An Xiao The Artist is Kinda Present [still from five-hour performance]

Tomorrow is the last day for the tonic and pleasures of the huge-scale Paterson, New Jersey installation, "Escape from New York", and I just realized that I hadn't uploaded any images yet. The show, curated by Olympia Lambert, is a treat on its own, but added to that, for those willing to leave familiar streets, are the curiosities (nineteenth-century usage) represented in the numerous and varied reminders of the town's industrial and social history.

The old core of Paterson still displays countess monuments to its former wealth, most of the public, banking and commercial buildings plainly marked to show they were erected at the turn of the twentieth century.

There are also an amazing number of nineteenth-century mill buildings just beyond the center, many of them handsomely restored (and presumably looking for artists), One of them (unrestored) shelters the work of the 43 "Escape" artists Lambert has collected. It and its dozens of sturdy brick neighbors share an old mill race and are perched below tree-covered hills just below a surprisingly idyllic Passaic Falls.

The cataract is the the second-highest large-volume falls on the U.S. East Coast, which accounts for Paterson's importance 200 years ago. Okay, the day we were there we saw a wedding party being photographed before it on a wide grassy ledge while we watched from above. Together with the architectural treasures the falls offer an additional incentive for a rail trip, a brief, comfortable ride on NJ Transit from Penn Station.

If you miss your own escape to New Jersey and these combined pleasures, there will be at least a chance to see some of the work in Manhattan in July (minus Paterson, of course). Lambert is putting the finishing touches on arrangements for "Return to New York", to be installed at HP Garcia Gallery July 7-31.

Alex Gingrow Younger Than Jesus made me throw . . .

Nicholas Fraser The Paterson Project [detail]

Peter Soriano Other Side # 82 (MEC)

Man Bartlett circle drawing XII - rendition above pointpiece II - constant

Thomas Lendvai Untitled ([large detail]

Tamas Veszi Dark Matter [detail]

Lagniappe: An abbreviated look at a few of the mills, and the falls:

the corner of Spruce and Market, at dusk on a Saturday

the footbridge is historically the eighth on the site

[image of "Younger Than Jesus made me throw . . . " from the artist's site]

This page is an archive of entries in the History category from June 2010.

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